By: Clayton Robinson
In today’s rapidly evolving society, engaging in conversations about LGBTQ+ issues is a crucial step toward understanding, acceptance, and a more inclusive world for everyone. These conversations are profoundly personal for individuals like Romaine Patterson, whose journey embodies the challenges and triumphs of the LGBTQ+ community.
Patterson is a prominent LGBTQ+ activist known for her advocacy work and efforts in promoting inclusivity. She gained national attention for her response to the 1998 hate crime murder of Matthew Shepard, organizing the “Angels in Action” counter-protest against the Westboro Baptist Church at Shepard’s funeral. Beyond her impactful activism, Patterson has been a dedicated voice for LGBTQ+ rights and a source of inspiration for those striving for a more tolerant and compassionate society. I had the pleasure of interviewing her and questioning her about her views on the modern LGBTQ+ landscape.
How do you think society has progressed in terms of LGBTQ+ rights?
Romaine: I mean, obviously, a lot of advancement since Matthew died. We’ve seen the right to marry; we have seen national hate crime registration under Matthew’s name – which is significant. And also, you know, there were still anti-sodomy laws on the books all across the United States; those have all been repealed. So, yeah, I think there have been a lot of advancements in gay rights since then. I mean, obviously, there’s still a lot to do, especially with transgender rights in this country, but, yeah, there have been significant advancements in the rights for gay people.
What challenges do you think still exist for people who identify as LGBTQ+?
Romaine: Well, obviously, with the trans-community right now, we are facing all of these anti-trans bans, these anti-drag queen bans, and all of these bans are not based on any factual information of the ‘T’ harming anyone in society. It’s just based on sheer bigotry and hatred, and fear, maybe even. There’s a lot of terminology that the right likes to use about the trans community or the gay community, calling us “groomers.” It’s not much different than in the 90’s when they called us “pedophiles,” or, you know, “predators.” So the language has changed slightly, but the intent behind these laws is the same, which is to marginalize and restrict our community and remove rights wherever they can.
How can people who consider themselves allies best support LGBTQ+ initiatives?
Romaine: Well, I think it’s important to talk about issues with your friends and family. You know, to not shy away from those conversations. I think it’s really important to do your research before voting, and understanding the laws that people are trying to pass. I think it is creating a safe space for your trans or gay friends to be themselves, and letting them know that it is a safe space. Be their support network. Sometimes it’s as simple as overhearing something that someone has said that is derogatory and confronting them and saying, “That’s not acceptable. What you’re saying is hurtful.” There’s a lot of ways that allies are very important to the continuing rights of the LGBTQ community.
There are people who say that certain rights initiatives have gone so far that people can’t make jokes or light of LGBTQ topics. Do you believe there are any aspects that have gone too far?
Romaine: Hahahaha. Have we become too politically correct? Um, I certainly think, uhh, I would say yes in some respects we have, but I understand why. It’s kinda one of those things where you have to really fight for these rights, and when someone’s making light of it, or making jokes, or being politically incorrect, it is harmful to the movement. So, while I understand the need for it, like sometimes it annoys me as a gay person. I’m like, It’s okay to still be fun and trendsetters and push those boundaries a little bit. I have lots of gay entertainer friends who definitely push those boundaries, and I wouldn’t want them to change since I think what they do and the way they do it is also important.
Are there specific issues within the LGBTQ rights movement that you’re particularly passionate about?
Romaine: I mean, right now I would definitely say that I am passionate about trans rights. I’ve had a lot of trans friends over the years, and they have educated me as to why, as a gay person, I should be invested in their rights. And, you know, as someone who recognizes that hate crimes are a problem still to this day, we cannot ignore that transgender women of color are being targeted far more than any hate crime group out there. We have to talk about it. Because if we don’t talk about it, then it’s just ignoring the problem and allowing it to continue to become a bigger issue. We have to talk about being inclusive; we have to talk about being welcoming to trans women of color and other trans people, and not stigmatize and not demonize this community just because of who they are.
How do you handle misconceptions or misinformation about LGBTQ issues?
Romaine: I think the big thing is leading by example. As a gay person, I live my life very openly and publicly and honestly, so that people can see my example and recognize what is real and isn’t. You know, what is just a stereotype of what I am as a lesbian or a mom that I am versus the reality. I think actively getting involved in your community, whether it’s your school community, or your local town you live in, or whatever, the PTA, get involved and become a part of those conversations to really push forward the change you’d like to see.
In your opinion, what role does education play in promoting LGBTQ acceptance?
Romaine: I think education is about presenting people with information so that they can make informed decisions, right? So, for instance, having me as a speaker here at Bergen Community College was an opportunity to basically have a conversation about how they feel about things. If you can’t present different sides of the spectrum, then how is anyone going to know where they fall within that? So I think it’s about providing a safe place where people can learn. I think it also helps with understanding history, whether it’s black history or gay history, any kind of history is super important in this country, so we don’t make the same mistakes again.
How do you feel about the recent usage of LGBTQ+ characters in Netflix shows, and other popular media?
Romaine: Do I think it’s necessary? When I worked at GLAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation, the whole point of that organization at the time was to be inclusive in the media. So if you had gay people next to straight people, that was inclusive. But, I think that TV shows shouldn’t just write in a gay character, just, because it doesn’t make sense. I think you want to write in a character that fits in the universe, that fits into the show that you’re creating, and if there is an opportunity for that? Great. Take it, but don’t just throw in a gay character for the sake of throwing in a gay character, because then you lack authenticity and it feels cheap, to me. And so, I think it’s not necessary, but then again for someone out in Wyoming who maybe doesn’t know any gay people, that one gay character is like a lifeline almost. It’s that one person they can identify with and they can see themselves in. So, it’s important to recognize that as well. It may get annoying for persons who live in places with a lot of gay persons, but for kids out there who may be all alone, it makes them feel less alone and I also think that’s very important.